Live: News throughout Monday as it happens in Iraq, Kurdistan Region

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At least three Iranian pilgrims and one Iraqi national were killed when a bus overturned in the eastern province of Wasit on Monday, according to an Iranian embassy official.

The accident occurred on the Kut-Badra route and resulted in 16 other passengers sustaining injuries. All passengers were from the Iranian city of Mashhad. Mohsen Zakerian, the head of the Red Crescent in the Iranian province of Khorasan Razavi, confirmed the incident, stating that around 30 passengers had been on board and that the injured were taken to a safe place. The cause of the accident remains unclear.

The incident comes as thousands of Iranians are traveling to Iraq for the annual Arbaeen event, with over two million having already crossed the Iraqi border. Arbaeen, which falls on September 6 this year, marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Just in: Turkey's Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar announced today that maintenance operations on the pipeline connecting Iraq's Kurdistan region to the Turkish port of Ceylan are nearly complete. 

Speaking to state broadcaster TRT Haber, Bayraktar emphasized Turkey's intent to resume the pipeline's operations as quickly as possible, Reuters said.
Here is the full translated statement from the Media Office of the Prime Minister

Today, Prime Minister Muhammad Shia'a Al-Sudani met with the families of the victims of the 2016 terrorist attack that targeted the Karrada area, resulting in hundreds of casualties, including those killed and wounded.

The Prime Minister informed the families that the death sentences for three main perpetrators involved in the terrorist bombing had been carried out last night and this morning. He emphasized that there will be no tolerance in implementing any judicial rulings against individuals convicted of terrorism.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Al-Sudani listened to the concerns and demands of the families, committing to address their specific needs and to remove any barriers to fulfilling them.

رئيس مجلس الوزراء السيد محمد شياع السوداني يستقبل عوائل شهداء فاجعة الكرادة •••••••••• استقبل رئيس مجلس الوزراء السيد محمد شياع السوداني، اليوم الاثنين، عوائل شهداء التفجير الإرهابي الذي استهدف منطقة الكرادة مطلع شهر تموز سنة 2016، وتسبب بسقوط المئات من الضحايا بين شهيد وجريح. وأبلغ سيادته أهالي الضحايا، بأنه جرى ليلة أمس وصباح اليوم، إنزال القصاص العادل وتنفيذ حكم الإعدام بحق ثلاثة من المجرمين الرئيسيين المدانين بالاشتراك في جريمة التفجير الإرهابي، مؤكداً أنه لن يتم التهاون مطلقاً في تنفيذ أي حكم قضائي صادر ضد المدانين بجرائم الإرهاب. واستمع السيد رئيس مجلس الوزراء إلى مطالب ذوي الشهداء، موجهاً بمتابعة متطلباتهم الخاصة، وتذليل العقبات أمام كل ما يعترض تحقيقها. ••••• المكتب الإعلامي لرئيس مجلس الوزراء 28- آب- 2023
Iraq has hanged three people convicted for a 2016 Baghdad bombing, claimed by the IS group, which killed more than 320 people, the prime minister's office said on Monday.

The bombing was one of the world's deadliest after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The car bombing sparked raging fires in Baghdad's Karrada shopping area early on July 3, 2016 as it teemed with people ahead of the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, during a meeting with victims' families, informed them "the rightful punishment of death sentence was carried out against three key criminals found guilty of their involvement in the terrorist bombing", his office said in a statement.

Timeline of recent developments as Tehran pressures KRG/Iraq to disarm opposition fighters in the KRI:

  • September 22: Anti-government protests erupt across Iran, triggered by the death of Jina Amini in custody of the country's morality police.
  • September 28: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) conducts drone, artillery, and missile attacks on Iranian-Kurdish bases in Koya, northern Iraq. The attacks result in at least 13 deaths and 58 injuries.
  • October 4: Follow-up attacks by IRGC continue into October, escalating the death toll to 18 and injuries to 62.
  • November: Iran launches ballistic missile and drone attacks on Kurdish Iranian opposition bases in Iraq, causing at least two deaths and eight injuries. Iran cites "repeated warnings" to Iraq to expel these groups.
  • December: To alleviate tensions, Iraq deploys military forces along the shared border with Iran.
  • March: A border security agreement is signed between Iran and Iraq. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi later acknowledges the agreement's significance to Iran's national security.
  • May: Iran summons the Iraqi ambassador to discuss the presence of Iranian opposition factions at an official ceremony in the Kurdistan Region. Tehran accuses these factions of importing arms and instigating previous year's protests.
  • May: Iraqi National Security Advisor Qasim Al-Araji conducts high-level visits in the Kurdistan Region, meeting with officials such as Interior Minister Reber Ahmed and PUK leader Bafel Talabani.
  • May 29: Al-Araji meets with KRG Interior Minister and high-ranking PUK security officials along with various Iranian authorities, marking what appears to be the culmination of Iraqi mediation efforts between Kurdish authorities and Iran.
  • Mid-July: Iraq's Interior Ministry announces a coordinated effort with the Kurdistan Regional Government to bolster border security, allocating approximately $7 million for the construction of new border posts.


KRG summons Iranian Kurdish parties to Erbil

The KRG has summoned officials from the Komala and PDKI parties to relay mounting pressures from Tehran, according to a source close to the matter.

The source, who was present at the meeting in Erbil today, told The Citadel that the KRG is facing huge pressures to relocate fighters into designated camps and to disarm them.

The source also said that while the opposition groups are generally amenable to moving to new camps, they reject calls to surrender their arms.

Divisions have emerged within the opposition parties themselves, with some veteran commanders open to disarmament, whereas many younger, more renegade, members consider it a red line.

Those closer to the latter group have pledged to engage in armed struggle if forced to disarm.


TotalEnergies' mega-projects contracts in Iraq take effect

The Basra Oil Company has confirmed that TotalEnergies, the French multinational corporation that recently inked a megadeal with Baghdad to develop energy infrastructure, activated its four key contracts in the areas of oil, gas, renewable energy, and seawater, effective as of August 16, 2023. Bassim Abdul Karim Al-Shamkhani, the Director General of the Basra Oil Company, told the Iraqi News Agency that this activation marks the onset of the contractual commitment phase between Iraq's Ministry of Oil and TotalEnergies.

Specifically, the contracts encompass:
  • The development of the Artawi oil field and an investment of 600 million cubic feet in several additional fields, including Al-Subba, Al-Luhais, Al-Toba, and the strategically important Majnoon field.
  • A seawater project designed to produce 5 million barrels for water injection procedures, ensuring sustained production in the regions of Basra, Maysan, and Dhi Qar.
  • An electric power project expected to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

Shamkhani stressed that the key challenge for Iraq lies in the successful implementation of these contracts to facilitate ongoing oil development and fully exploit associated gas and derivatives. 

TotalEnergies' activation of these major contracts comes amid increasing foreign investment in Iraq's energy sector.

China in talks to build 10 electric power stations in Iraq

The commercial adviser at the Chinese Embassy in Iraq, Shi Chun, told the semi-official Iraqi News Agency that negotiations are underway with the Iraqi government to construct approximately 10 electric power stations in central and southern Iraq. Chun stated that multiple Chinese firms have already added more than 6,200 megawatts to Iraq's national power grid. 

More than 10 Chinese companies are in discussions about power station projects in Iraq, Chun said. He emphasized the need to not only build new facilities but also to modernize Iraq's existing electrical transmission network for a comprehensive resolution to the country's ongoing power crisis.

Power China and other Chinese businesses are negotiating with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity to enhance the electrical infrastructure in southern Iraq, according to the report. 

Despite being OPEC's second-largest oil producer and possessing some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, Iraq relies on Iran for about one-third of its gas and electricity. This dependency leaves Baghdad susceptible to pressure from both Iran and the United States.

China's involvement in infrastructure projects like these often serves a dual purpose. In addition to the apparent economic and infrastructural benefits, there is often a geopolitical strategy in play. Through its Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development campaign aimed at connecting China with more than 60 countries, China has been increasingly employing infrastructure as a tool for coercive diplomacy. The investment in vital sectors like energy not only deepens economic ties but also increases the political leverage China holds over the participating countries, potentially compromising their autonomy in key policy decisions.

Discrepancy in KRI oil revenue reported by Draw Media 

Screengrab from Deloitte report
Screengrab from Deloitte report   credit: Deloitte

Draw Media has published purported Iraqi oil ministry documents that highlight discrepancies between oil production and revenue figures for the Kurdistan Region during Q1 of this year.

These figures differ from those provided by auditing firm Deloitte. 

Differences in Q1 oil prices and revenue, according to each set of figures, are as follows:

Oil prices per barrel:
  • Iraqi oil ministry: $75.4 average 
  • Deloitte report: $67.6 average
  • Discrepancy: $7.8

Q1 2023 total revenue:
  • Iraqi oil ministry: $2.469 billion
  • Deloitte report: $2.178 billion
  • Discrepancy: $291 million

The Iraqi oil ministry document is reportedly being used by Baghdad as a reference for evaluating the KRG oil revenues in discussions about Erbil's budget allocation.

According to the ministry's report, the total revenue for Q1 amounted to 3.703 trillion dinars. These numbers significantly differ from those released by Deloitte, raising questions that warrant further clarification.

Arrest warrant issued for Sulaymaniyah official over border customs comments

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ali Kareem, a member of the Sulaymaniyah Provincial Council, over comments he made about alleged illicit activities at a border crossing controlled by the PUK between Iraq and Iran. The warrant accuses Kareem, who is a member of the Change Movement (Gorran), of 'abuse of communication and mobile technologies'. The complaint was lodged by the Kurdistan Regional Government's finance ministry (also controlled by Gorran).

Speaking to Rudaw TV two weeks ago, Kareem alleged that during an Aug. 11 visit by a committee from the Iraqi Ministry of Finance to the Parwez Khan border crossing, several oil tankers were deliberately hidden. He claimed that approximately '700 to 800' tankers transport oil and refinery waste to Iran daily through the port, and that these tankers were moved to the Iranian side upon the committee's arrival. 

The issue of transparency concerning revenues from PUK-controlled border crossings has long been a point of contention between the PUK and the KDP, as well as between Baghdad and Erbil.

While the PUK has initiated a transparency project via a website called "Shafafiat," both the KDP and the federal government in Baghdad have expressed concerns over transparency issues, extending not just to PUK-controlled areas but to all of the Kurdistan Region's border revenues.
Nasser Kanani, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, announced that Baghdad has 'agreed to disarm' Iranian Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region by September 19.

According to Kanani, Iran and Iraq have mutually agreed that these "armed terrorist separatist groups" should evacuate their military garrisons for government-provided camps.

While describing Iran-Iraq relations as "friendly and warm," Kanani noted that the armed groups are a "black spot" in their ties. He warned that if Iraq fails to meet its commitments by the deadline, Iran will take actions to ensure its own security.
Iraq's interior ministry says it has arrested four suspects linked to the Islamic State (IS) in Baghdad

Three of the suspects were detained in the Karkh district, with one identified as a member of IS's Yarmouk Brigade. The ministry said the suspects have confessed to their affiliations and are awaiting court proceedings. 

On Sunday, the ministry also arrested an unnamed IS suspect at a Baghdad hotel. Accused of conducting intelligence operations for IS, particularly in Nineveh province, the individual has also admitted to being part of the extremist group. 

Despite losing its 'caliphate' in late 2017, IS remains in active insurgency, primarily launching attacks in rural areas. A United Nations report released in July estimates between 5,000 and 7,000 IS members are still scattered across Iraq and Syria.
Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, issued a stern warning to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, stating that Iran would intensify its military operations against Kurdish armed groups based in Kurdistan Region if Iraq fails to disarm groups hostile to Iran by September 18.

Bagheri underscored that border security has improved but criticized neighboring countries for not effectively securing borders against armed separatist groups.

The warning comes almost a year after Iranian forces targeted various Kurdish groups and a refugee camp in Iraq. Iran is approaching the anniversary of Jina [Mahsa] Amini's killing by the hands of Iran's morality police; the regime blames Kurdish opposition groups for fomenting much of the unrest that gripped the country. 

Bagheri emphasized that if Iraq does not meet its commitment to disarm these groups by the designated date, Iran will respond with "more force."

We'll have more on this story throughout the day.

Nizarke Castle to be transformed into Anfal museum

The KRG is transforming the Nizarke castle in Duhok into an Anfal memorial to honor the thousands of Kurds tortured and killed there during Saddam Hussein's regime.
Duhok Governor Ali Tatar announced that the imposing castle will be renovated into a museum displaying Anfal artifacts and photos, and a monument will also be erected to commemorate victims of Anfal.

This comes as Kurdish leaders marked the 35th anniversary of the Anfal campaign in Badinan, calling for the enactment of Iraq's constitutional article 132 for fair compensation to victims' families. 

The Anfal campaign was one of several genocidal acts against Iraqi Kurds, resulting in tens of thousands displaced and an estimated 182,000 killed.

Check out this link for some great photography of the castle by Bas News.

Rudaw has an excellent piece on the castle from 2017 that you should also check out.

Pro-Iran militia supporters reportedly blocking roads in Kirkuk

Yesterday, the KDP announced its return to the disputed city with the handover of party offices that were abandoned when Iraqi forces and pro-Iran militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) took over the city as Kurdish forces withdrew. 

It seems like some aren't happy about the KDP's Kirkuk offices being returned to the party by the federal government. 

Morning briefing

Happy Monday! 

  • Iran has reportedly informed officials in Iraq that there will be no deadline extension for disarming Iranian Kurdish opposition groups operating in Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Iraqi authorities foil attempts to smuggle large amounts of US dollar across the border with Syria.